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After a cavalry charge during the 1916 U.S. "war against Pancho Villa," unheroic awards officer Tom Thorn (who is obsessed with the nature of courage) recommends 4 men for the Medal of Honor. He is ordered back to Cordura with them...and prisoner Adelaide Geary, gringo who sheltered the enemy. On the arduous journey, Thorn's heroes show a different face, and Thorn may have one last chance to prove he's no coward. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
On the night of March 8th, 1916, a large mounted force of Mexican rebels under Pancho Villa crossed the American Border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing and wounding both American civilians and soldiers.
As a result of this action,the United States Army sent an expedition into Mexico with orders to capture Villa and disperse his forces.
It was during this campaign that one man, an United States Army officer,was forced to come face to face with two of the great fundamental questions that affect mankind:
What Is Courage? What Is Cowardice?
This is the story of his search for an answer. See more »
What exactly is courage? How can a man know if he will act bravely when the supreme test comes? These are the questions occupying the mind of Major Tom Thorn as he escorts a detail of medal-winning troopers out of Mexico and back to the USA. "What made you do it?" is Thorn's repeated question to the heroes. He once lost his nerve in combat, and his subsequent life has been one long meditation on the nature of bravery, and how a man comes by it. In the wilderness of Mexico, Thorn's moral fibre is put to the sternest of tests.
Set in 1916, the film centres on a US military expedition deep into Mexico, a punitive response to Pancho Villa's raid on American territory. Gary Cooper plays Thorn, and though he invests his character with a certain quiet dignity, he can hardly be accused of acting.
Thorn is despatched back to the USA with a small group of men, each of whom is to be decorated for valour. As the Cavalry's Awards Officer, Thorn will have to prepare citations, and he obsessively quizzes the men about why they did what they did, how they felt at the time, and so forth.
Typically for a film of its era, "Cordura" assembles a melange of ethnic tokens, throws them into a difficult situation, then concentrates on the tensions and confrontations which result. Richard Conte is Truby, the crafty latin type, and Van Heflin plays Chawk, the angosaxon brute. Dick York is Renziehausen, the German American from (where else?) Wisconsin. Thorn is hoping to learn the secret of courage from his motley crew, but discovers that the answer to his question can only be found within himself.
Nice angles are developed to open out the plot's basic premise. A cavalry charge against the Mexicans looks like dashing American heroism, but might be no more than cynical fakery on the part of medal-hunting Colonel Rogers. Chawk might be an unfeeling ruffian rather than a hero. The arrival in the group of Mrs. geary (Rita Hayworth) complicates the issues, because the presence of a beautiful woman causes the men's interests to diverge.
The Mexican terrain is spectacular, and the film's central proposition is an interesting one, but the end product is so-so. It is difficult to warm to Cooper as an actor, or indeed to his character. Tab Hunter (as Lieutenant Fowler) goes way over the top. Thorn's sudden perking-up beside the rail track is a ludicrous event.
Verdict - Would-be essay on the wellsprings of human courage peters out into humdrum adventure yarn.
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